College sports are, in many instances, built on tradition. Anywhere from the team running out onto the court or the field before the game to the chants that echo throughout the arena or stadium, that tradition is what ends in goosebumps rising up your spine and giving you a reminder of why you love college sports.
While there are some crazy, wild and hilarious traditions across college sports, no tradition brings fan bases together and divides them the way that a rivalry does. Two schools, fan bases and groups of people that might be otherwise as similar as can be until you get to their favorite teams. Around the country there are few rivalries that can come anywhere near the level of the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers when the two teams go head to head on a basketball court.
Despite the fact that the game of basketball was founded in New York, the citizens of Indiana (myself included) have taken a liking to the idea that it’s “Our game”, and despite the recent national success of Notre Dame and Butler, college hoops fan bases in Indiana are dominated by Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
And, of course, this rivalry will be brought back to the forefront on two occasions this year, the way it should be.
With that being said, let’s run through a quick preview of possible storylines for the two meetings this season.
The first meeting takes place on February 9th, a Thursday, at Assembly Hall. The only meeting between these two teams last year took place in Assembly Hall, with the Hoosiers surviving a fierce comeback late in the game. The Hoosiers will always show up to defend Assembly Hall, making it one of the most daunting places in the country to play a road game.
One of the bigger strategy decisions I’ll be interested in is whether or not Tom Crean will use big man Thomas Bryant the same way he did in the meeting last year. While Bryant has the skill and size to be a dominant big man, Crean was able to exploit the Purdue defense by using Bryant more as a playmaker.
By putting him in the high post or at the top of the key, Bryant could find cutting teammates while also dragging the shot blocking the Boilers have away from the basket. With Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas both returning for the Boilers, it will be very interesting to see whether Crean goes to the same gameplan.
In the meeting last year, the Hoosiers took incredible care of the basketball. They turned the ball over only four times over the course of the game, while the Boilers coughed it up 13 times. The Boilers seem to have upgraded their guard play, so it will be interesting to see if the Hoosiers can force turnovers at over a 3:1 rate. At home, you’d expect the Hoosiers to win the turnover battle.
The second meeting between these two teams will take place in West Lafayette at Mackey Arena on February 28th, which will be Purdue’s Senior Night. Not only is Mackey one of the loudest arenas in the conference, it’s one of the more underrated venues on a national level, and the Boilers always crank it up in their friendly confines. The rivalry and senior night factored in, the intensity will be through the roof.
Even with Bryant down low for the Hoosiers, if you take Indiana’s front court against Purdue’s, you’d almost certainly give the edge to the Boilers with Haas and Swanigan. With that being said, it will be very intriguing to see if the Hoosiers can find a way to neutralize the two big men offensively and how they’ll defend in the post.
The Boilers feel they’ve added a lot of shooting, so do the Hoosiers go man to man in the post? If so, it could be a huge chance for someone like Bryant to show people again he can guard great college big men.
People around the state of Indiana live for basketball, especially their college hoops. I’d put Indiana-Purdue right up there with Duke and North Carolina in a heartbeat. Whenever the teams take the court, you can guarantee the intensity and desire will be on full display.